Thursday, 9 August 2007

A Visit to the Nigerian Embassy in Hungary

by Hakeem Babalola
The only time I love going to the Embassy of Nigeria in Hungary is whenever it has to do with my writings. And I have done that a couple of times. My first encounter with our friends at the Embassy was in 1994 when I was doing a news story about 419 scam, which was just gaining momentum in Hungary then. It would later soil Nigeria’s image here in the Danube area. I remember I was initially verbally accused of collaborating with the foreign media to discredit Nigeria, although the then first secretary, Ayo Otepola, eventually granted me an interview.

Meanwhile, I simply detest asking our Embassy for any services even though as a Nigerian, it’s my prerogative to get such services. The services I have in mind include authentication of photocopy of my original birth certificate obtained 13 days after I was born in 19XX, and the fee paid was One Shilling. I need it to process my child’s further staying permit. I had misplaced the original. But there’s no way any reasonable and apt Nigerian official would doubt the genuineness of my precious document.

Yet my mind refused to have a blissful peace just because I must authenticate this document at my Embassy before it could be accepted for translation into Hungarian. I had experienced similar growing scepticism in December 2006 when I must go to my Embassy to collect a certified document stating that our child is Nigerian. Until then "the" child status shall remain stateless – at least as Hungarian government is concerned.

In both cases it turned out that such scepticism was purely based on my imagination. This is because I was attended to and got both documents without much hassle under the supervision of two Madams – Ester Ogundipe and G.C Sani respectively. My experience is however, maybe contrary to what many of our compatriots encounter at the Embassy here in Hungary.

Nigerians who bear the Embassy a grudge and would hold it for years are those with the so-called proxy passports. These Nigerians cannot fit themselves into the web of social life unless they first cross the hurdle of proxy passport. As each day wax, they dream of that delusive moment when the Nigerian Ministry of Internal affairs would find it significant to ship the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) to Hungary.

Although the MRP will cease to be an authorised travel document in July 2008 when it will be replaced by the recently introduced Harmonised ECOWAS e-passport, Nigerians wishing to get married to Hungarians must first present it before their Embassy could issue a clearance certificate for nuptial bliss. Such certificates had been issued to many Nigerians until recently when holders of proxy passport are exempted.

It should be noted that Hungarian Immigration has zero tolerance for proxy passport, a clampdown which often delays Nigerians at the port of entry. Yours truly constantly experience such delays. It may take twenty to thirty minutes before establishing the genuineness of a Nigerian passport at the Hungarian airport. Many Nigerian proxy passports have also being seized.

So on that bright Tuesday morning off I went to the Embassy having booked an appointment with the consular. After the friendly looking security had satisfied that I was not concealing any weapon of mass destruction, he ushered me in – to the waiting room. I met another Nigerian and we greeted each other.

Fifteen minutes later, the consular came to the room, pointing to me that I must be the person who talked to her on the phone about authentication of... "birth certificate," I helped her finish the sentence. I was greatly impressed by her memory, after all, there are tens of Nigerians calling this Embassy everyday. Besides, I have always heard bad comments about our officials. Isn’t it food for reflection if I had to be impressed simply because madam was doing her job?

She then moved towards where I was sitting, sat beside me and inspected my document. I was right when I said earlier that no competent Nigerian official would doubt my birth certificate, for it was written on her face. There was no need to challenge its authenticity, so Madam just offered me various ways to do it. She talked about Hungarians with so much exactitude that surprised John Chukwu and I. Here is our Madam who barely spent four months and has already known what took most of us years to understand.

Another Nigerian who was accompanied by a white lady whom I later discovered to be his fiancee had joined us immediately Madam left. He greeted us with compatriot handshake. Then we engaged in discussion based on the image of Nigeria. We chatted about the ministry of internal affairs inability to provide MRP to the Embassy in Hungary. We talked about Hungary’s joining Schengen Staten soon which means free border; and those with proxy passports would be able to go to Austria to authenticate them.

John Chukwu whose passport had been seized by the Hungarian Immigration seemed satisfied with the newly promoted first secretary, Miss Aiyenuro, who attended to him. I was happy to part with 30 dollars for the service rendered to me. Only Obinna Maduewesi who holds proxy passport and until now may not be able to wed his fiancee, was dissatisfied and furious.

As I left the Embassy, I prayed for Obinna – such a young guy. And I lost in deep thought: is Madam being nice or simply doing her job? Does she know that I’m a newspaper boy who must write? Or is it simply the beginning of a new era at our Embassy in Hungary? It’s too early for me to jump into conclusion but I shall have my ear to the ground.

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